Manure Management with NRCS: A Water Quality Spotlight
When most people think of New Hampshire NRCS programs, they might think of high tunnels, soil health, hay land seedings, or even forestry work. What producers may not know is that we also offer technical advice, designs, and cost share for responsible waste management on farm headquarters as well.
Through the Environmental Quality incentives program (EQIP), NRCS assists our local livestock and vegetable producers to responsibly manage their waste through systems such as composting, manure storage, manure handling, and heavy use area protection practices.
Runoff from improperly stored manure can accumulate during rainfall events and enter our clean waterways. Although most manure and compost waste is an organic material, it contains high levels of what we call limiting nutrients. When these limiting nutrients such as Nitrogen and Phosphorous enter the water, they feed large outbreaks of bacteria and algae that in high numbers harm the native animals and vegetation. The same process can occur through nutrient leaching where Nitrogen seeps through the ground and enters our groundwater, including wells and aquifers. During the summer months this may not be as bad of an issue, as animals on farms are usually out on pasture, or the manure from animals in barns can be spread on fields. The same goes for composted scraps and manure. The greatest challenge comes when we need to manage the manure that gets concentrated on the farmstead in the winter months, when animals are not grazing, and spreading manure on fields isn’t an option.
The way NRCS helps solve this dilemma traces all the way back to our roots of "Helping People Help the Land." This usually starts with a site visit where we want to assess all the concerns on the farmstead such as water quality, soil quality, energy inefficiencies, labor inefficiencies, and the farmer’s general concerns.
Many landowners are aware of issues on their property but may not have the means to solve them. NRCS can help producers take a step back and design a solution that provides an incentive to restore water quality but also solve some of the inefficiencies. Most of these projects improve the flow on the farm while keeping the clean water clean. It’s usually a win – win for everyone.
A Holstein cow sticks their head outside of the barn. Image Credit: Larry Britton
A recent success story and example of one of these manure handling projects brings us to Britton Farm, in Walpole, NH.
Britton Farm milks about 95 Holstein cows and sells specialty beef and eggs. Like many farms, they struggled with similar issues stated above, where manure in the winter months would build up and become a hassle to manage. Historically, farms in New England were located next to water sources and were pieced together over time on tough terrain, making manure management very difficult. As a result of these conditions manure had a direct flow path to nearby surface and ground water resources.
Manure at Britton Farm before management project. Image Credit: Larry Britton
The solution was to install a concrete bottomed manure storage pit with walls made of pre cast concrete blocks. This pad offers a clean and properly sized stacking site for the manure coming out of the heifer (young stock) barn, so that nutrients aren’t directly leaching from the ground into the waterbodies. The pad is also conveniently located at the end of the barn so that manure can be scraped directly in one pass with the tractor, and neatly stacked aside where it will wait to be applied to fields in the spring.
Other supporting practices were designed with this system such as gravel heavy use areas, and roof runoff control structures. These allow for easy driving lanes to control equipment traffic and make sure clean runoff water gets properly diverted away from areas where it can get contaminated. In the future, a roof structure will be installed over the manure pit to intercept clean rainwater from entering the manure. This will keep the rain runoff from getting dirty, and also keep the manure dry where in that state it is easier to handle and spread responsibly.
Although not every concern on the farm was treated, this project proved to be a great success as a stepping stone into what solutions NRCS can offer on farmsteads.
Manure at Britton Farm after implementation of the management project.
Image Credit: Larry Britton
The Walpole NRCS Field Office would like to thank Britton Farm for being a diligent participant and giving permission to highlight their success story.
Learn more about the NRCS EQIP Program Here: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs-initiatives/eqip-environmental-quality-incentives